Friday, April 06, 2007


When All Else Fails

So, what do you do when your opponents keep demonstrating your ignorance of the subject matter, make mincemeat of your "logic" and generally shred your arguments? Why, if you are a creationist, you repeat them LOUDER! And maybe you throw in a quote from another IDeologist but without bothering to identify him as such.

Dr. Michael Egnor, the Discovery Institute's brainless surgeon is back with a rehash of his favorite oldie: "Darwinism" isn't necessary for modern medicine or modern science in general. As Mark Hoofnagle at has already pointed out, Egnor's "thesis," such as it is, consists mostly of a claim that, if a science existed in any form before Darwin's theory, then evolutionary theory isn't useful to that science in its present form.

Egnor starts by just giving links to his old posts that have already been eviscerated, probably in hopes his target audience isn't clever enough to have mastered Google. Just in case, there is Egnorance: The Egotistical Combination of Ignorance and Arrogance; Hey Dr. Egnor: At Least Galen Dissected Animals, Not Straw Men; and Dr. Egnor's deviously clever plan to destroy Darwinism once and for all, not to mention a few others, that have appeared.

He then tries to add creationist gloss on his previous blather by suggesting a supplementary thesis by way of Philip Skell, from an article "Why Do We Invoke Darwin?," that appeared in the Opinion section of The Scientist in August of 2005. Egnor cites Skell (who has already campaigned in Kansas for the Discovery Institute's "teach the controversy" ploy) to the effect that "Darwinism is a 'narrative gloss' on biology."

For some reason Egnor gives a link to the article that requires a subscription, despite the fact that Skell's article is on the Discovery Institute's own site. As we will see, there is good reason he might not want you to read Skell.

According to Skell, experimental biology does not need Darwin's theory to be conducted. Besides his own anecdotal experience and an informal "survey" Skell claims to have made of other researchers, the only evidence he offers for this proposition was this quote from A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays:
While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,' most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas.
Thus, on top of the hooey that any science pre-existing Darwin cannot now also rely on the subsequent 150 years of scientific work, we are also to believe that because the day-to-day work of biologists does not require "particular reference" to evolutionary theory, evolutionary science is therefore irrelevant.

The good reason why Egnor might not have wanted you to read that article now becomes apparent. The quote mine of Wilkins (borrowed by Skell, as so much of ID is, from young-Earth creationists) has already got an entry in the Quote Mine Project. As PZ Myers said back in June of 2004, long before Skell appropriated the quote mine, it comes from "an introduction to an entire issue of the journal dedicated to evolutionary processes." The reason that scientists go about their work without "particular reference" to evolutionary theory is well explained by PZ:
[The] whole point is bogus. Yes, I can go into my lab right now, make up some solutions, run a pH meter, collect embryos, use a microscope, etc., without once using the principles of evolutionary biology. Likewise, I can do a lot of the day-to-day stuff of the lab without even thinking about developmental biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, or physiology; that does not imply that these disciplines are not central to how life works. We don't need evolutionary biology . . . except whenever we want to think about how these narrow, esoteric little experiments we do fit into the grander picture of life on earth. You know, biology.
Egnor, and Skell before him, are pushing a version of the creation science bafflegab that the only "real" science is the sort that involves repeatable experiments in a lab. This is obvious from Skell's attempt to make a distinction between "experimental biology" and "historical biology." This notion of science might be called "technicianism." It is rather like saying that astronomers should only investigate the light coming from stars and not try to figure out how stars and solar systems form. Real science goes beyond trying to understand what is right before our eyes and tries to learn how it got there in the first place.

Egnor may be satisfied with being a highly skilled meat cutter, uninterested in the larger picture of life, but, fortunately for the rest of us, his lack of intellectual curiosity has not left us in the dark ages where Egnor and his fellows at the Discovery Institute would feel so much more comfortable.


You can do experiments on humours. And maybe some trepanning, if you have time...
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